Hurricane Sandy Response Stirs Up Capitol Hill LobbyistsBennett Roth
Lobbyists representing interests more than a thousand miles from Hurricane Sandy’s landfall competed with East Coast beach towns and utilities when U.S. lawmakers drafted their storm-relief legislation.
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Louisiana’s St. Charles Parish were among at least 150 entities that sought to shape the cleanup package, according to reports filed for the fourth quarter of 2012 with the Senate. Much of the lobbying focused on the Senate version of the legislation, H.R. 1, which wasn’t considered by the House and expired at the end of the session.
Companies that lobbied on the bill included Home Depot Inc.; Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts; defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.; and JetBlue Airways Corp. They spent a lot of money on their hired advocates just in case there was a chance to get a special-interest rider into the legislation; it’s impossible to determine exactly how much was spent on those losing bets.
The storm devastated a densely populated region along the Atlantic coast, prompting New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie to try to publicly shame House Speaker John Boehner into moving faster on relief money.
Early this month Boehner, an Ohio Republican, offered a two-part response: an additional $9.7 billion in borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program to ensure that Sandy victims were covered, followed by a larger bill that would provide $50.5 billion in immediate and long-term assistance to rebuild homes, beaches, transportation and other infrastructure.
The first measure, H.R. 41, was enacted on Jan. 6. The House passed the second, H.R. 152, on Jan. 15, and the Senate may vote on it this week.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group that advocates for transparency in government spending, described the legislation as “chum in the water” for lobbyists. “Sixty billion dollars is no small chunk of change,” he said.
His group also registered as lobbying on the Sandy legislation, saying it wanted to “eliminate non-emergency spending” from the Senate version of the bill.
Much of the lobbying was of the “keeping up with the Joneses” variety, as interest groups wanted to be seen fighting for their share because everyone else was.
The gaming industry’s priority was to make sure that the Sandy bill wouldn’t prohibit casinos from qualifying for aid, said Holly Wetzel, vice president of communications at the Washington-based American Gaming Association. She said that the initial measures providing assistance for areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, barred tax incentives for gambling operations.
“Our industry learned during the aftermath of Katrina that we have to be vigilant to ensure that our industry is not unfairly carved out of any portion of relief legislation because ours is a casino industry,” Wetzel said.
After lobbying by the group, Wetzel said, the Katrina prohibition was narrowed to only apply to casino floors.
As for Sandy, while the storm caused some external damage to casinos, they didn’t suffer significant flooding, she said.
Casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, generate more than $100 million in monthly revenue, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.
The Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors National Association said on its filing with the Office of the Secretary of the Senate that it lobbied in “support of incentivizing grid reliability and building resiliency for critical operations in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.”
Congress also heard from Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., a New York-based company that provides consulting and engineering for infrastructure projects, along with the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and Allianz of America Corp./Fireman’s Fund Insurance.
United Parcel Service Inc. said in its Senate filing that it wanted to educate lawmakers about the impact on UPS customers and about the company’s relief efforts. The Jewish Federation of North America said it was advocating for aid to “non-profits and places of worship.”
Dunkin’ Brands, based in Canton, Massachusetts, disclosed that it was interested in unspecified tax provisions. Cicely Simpson, vice president of government affairs for Dunkin’ Brands, said in an e-mailed statement that the storm “temporarily impacted” many of its franchisees’ restaurants.
“While this did not have a material impact on our earnings, we certainly were able to witness first hand the impact on small businesspeople,” she said.
Simpson said the company worked with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations “to help convey the ramifications of the storm to Congress and to help them understand the importance of relief in getting small business back on track.”
Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Maryland, said it lobbied on “provisions related to fire disasters in 2012 including Hurricane Sandy relief.”
Utilities -- including Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp. and Houston-based CenterPoint Energy Inc. -- also lobbied on the storm aid.
Brooklyn Navy Yard Cogeneration Partners LP, which supplies steam and electric power to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, hired the firm of Constantinople & Vallone to lobby on “Hurricane Sandy and long term supply contracts.”
Other groups based in the Northeast that lobbied on the package included the Greater New York Hospital Association, the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City, the Garden State Seafood Association and Monmouth University in New Jersey.
Beach towns along the Atlantic coast also hired Washington lobbyists to speak on their behalf on Capitol Hill. The borough of Avalon, New Jersey, tapped Marlowe & Co., as did other coastal governments, including Carolina Beach and Hanover County in North Carolina and the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association.
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation opposed Senate amendments regarding restoration of livestock and specialty crop disaster programs, according to its lobbying disclosure filings.
The American Forest Foundation reported that its target was “specifically emergency forest restoration funding” in a Senate amendment that didn’t make it to the final bill.
Louisiana’s St. Charles Parish was also interested in the Sandy supplemental appropriations, according to the filings of its outside lobbyist, Tauzin Consultants, whose partners include a former congressman, Billy Tauzin.
An early version of the Sandy relief bill included a provision that would have sped up Army Corps of Engineers projects in Louisiana’s river parishes, including St. Charles, to deal with damage from Hurricane Isaac last year and another that would urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency to forgive emergency loans from Katrina. Those provisions weren’t in the version that the House passed.
“It did not happen,” said Brendan O’Connor, the account manager for the Tauzin firm. “We knew from the beginning it was a real longshot.”
Among other entities that disclosed that they lobbied or hired outside firms to lobby on Sandy were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Homebuilders, Travelers Cos., Cisco Systems Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Pepco Holdings Inc., Nevada Energy, Great Plains Energy, AT&T Services Inc., Yum Brands Inc. and Colonial Pipeline.
Even Lorillard Tobacco Co. joined the effort to shape the Sandy bill in the Senate, which has a history of adding off-topic amendments to legislation. The company’s lobbying firm, Dickstein Shapiro LLP, listed the Senate’s storm supplemental appropriations bill as one of its issues.